Mainstream media has suffered massive wholesale degradation in the 21st century as giant conglomerates have consolidated many outlets of information under the banner of their own special interests. Rather than being a source of news, discussion, debate, or even inspiration, most media has become a propaganda machine transparent and vapid to those who see through the limitation of polarity. However, a few holdout media organizations have withstood the onslaught of homogenization flooded under the gaudy headings of “globalization” and “progress”. National Public Radio (NPR) is one of those shining beacons of culture, able to objectively straddle party lines, and reveal intriguing paths for investigation into what it means to be a community.
Understanding that no one news outlet can be all things to all people, but seeking to reach as many diverse people as possible, NPR has a complex and far-reaching program schedule. Morning Edition deals with the early news of the day, while All Things Considered represents the offbeat investigation of current affairs, reviews, and interviews. Fresh Air features discussions with the biggest luminaries and intellectual trend setters of the day. Here & Now is on mid-day, reflecting news which crops up at that time. Code Switch is willing and able to flip the stories which are often intractable. Hosts Meraji and Demby comment,
Ever find yourself in a conversation about race and identity where you just get...stuck? Code Switch can help. We're all journalists of color, and this isn't just the work we do. It's the lives we lead. Sometimes, we'll make you laugh. Other times, you'll get uncomfortable. But we'll always be unflinchingly honest and empathetic. Come mix it up with us. (NPR)
The Dian Rehm Show is a hard hitting journalism program tackling the issues two hours a day five days a week. Embedded is a program which investigates the emotional core of news stories. Host Kelly McEvers wonders, what does it feel like for a father in El Salvador to lie to his daughter about the bodies he saw in the street that day? What does it feel like for a nurse from rural Indiana to shoot up a powerful prescription opioid? Embedded (EMBD) takes you to where they're happening. (NPR)
Latino USA is the radio journal of news and culture from a Latino perspective. On point with Tom Ashbrook is a morning news analysis and commentary on the real issues. Weekend Edition Saturday “wraps up the week's news and offers a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories. The two-hour program is hosted by NPR's Peabody Award-winning Scott Simon” (NPR). Weekend Edition Sunday takes the week’s news on from a human interest and cultural perspective, a more laid back and ruminative approach to reflect this day (NPR).
One aspect of radio programming which NPR does so well is storytelling and humor, a lost art since the days of reality television. The program Ask Me Another “brings the lively spirit and healthy competition of your favorite trivia night right to your ears. With a rotating cast of funny people, puzzle writers and VIP guests” (NPR). Car Talk utilizes the humorous antics of mechanic Tom and Ray Maliozzi as they take calls from America’s frustrated car owners. Bullseye with Jesse Thorn features, “in-depth interviews with brilliant creators, culture picks from our favorite critics and irreverent original comedy. [called] the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world” (NPR). Hidden Brain investigates the nature of consciousness, while How to Do Everything offers the ultimate DIY radio experience. Other comedy extravaganzas are Pop Cutlure Happy Hour, StoryCorps, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! (NPR).
One of the newest editions to the celebrated programming is the TED Radio Hour, featuring concepts to expand the mind. This program offers, “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TEDTalks from the world's most remarkable minds” (NPR). NPR also offers music programs which highlight the many eras of quality sound. All in all National Pubic Radio is a diverse, varied, intelligent, and copious container for culture.
The age of the Internet allows everyone to express their opinion on more level footing than has been available in the past, and let’s face it, many people take advantage of the anonymity of the computer to sprout noxious verbiage they would be ashamed to mutter in public. The station is member supported, with, “Thirty-three million people listen each day to NPR affiliate stations, and some 27 million tune into at least one program distributed by National Public Radio” (Creamer). However, this is a necessity since, “Republicans in the House passed a bill — with no Democratic support — to cut off funding for NPR altogether and to restrict local public radio stations from using federal funds from buying programing from NPR” (Creamer). Republicans have long expressed their dislike for the “liberal” station, and are happy with this move, although it will likely do nothing to quell the support for NPR.
Analysts point out why Republicans hate NPR, first and foremost as an example of the success of the public sector. NPR was first established by a public corporation to provide the long-form serious news coverage that radio was missing, and many believed would be commercially unviable-aka did not think Americans had the attention span (Creamer). Republicans, “Rather than reconsider their belief that the public sector can never do anything as well as private corporations, their first reaction is to kill the successful ventures that disprove rightwing ideological orthodoxy” (Creamer). Also, NPR is drawing away key listeners from the Clear Channel propaganda system. Republicans, “are all about “competition” until private corporations have to compete with public sector ventures that can provide superior services for less money and don’t have to pay millions in profits to satisfy their corporate task masters” (Creamer). This, and many types of behavior reveals that Republicans say they are for one thing, but are actively working against that very thing for another reason.
Republicans represent corporate interests before the interests of the public largely by playing on self-expression, fears, misinformation, and prejudice. NPR is first and foremost an educational platform, and “The same right wing Republicans who want to privatize public schools, want to kill off NPR. Third, Republicans want to kill NPR because it presents high quality, unbiased, factually accurate news” (Creamer). Those who point out the duplicity of the Republican agenda have trouble getting through the cotton balls in the ears of those who will believe anything anyone in a red tie says after hollering the buzz words “liberal”, “abortion”, and “free market.” However,
Many of these Republicans don’t believe that listeners — particularly young listeners — should be exposed to subversive subjects like science — evolution and such. And they sure as heck don’t want to give economists forums to release studies drawing uncomfortable conclusions such as the Moody Econometrics study by Marc Zandi that shows that the Republicans’ budget plan would cost 700,000 Americans their jobs. (Creamer). But the Republicans need worry because their base does not listen to NPR.
The liberal structure of NPR is diametrically opposed to the consolidation under one corporate banner homogenization which the Republicans tout. This is revealed in how their organization is structured:
Though most people think of NPR as a radio station, it's actually a news gathering and production organization that sources and creates content for member stations (which are different than affiliates in that they're completely independent entities). According to new CEO Vivian Schiller, that means that NPR has a culture incredibly devoted to local coverage. "To me, local is the big play, because local commercial radio has abandoned the local market. Local newspapers are withering or sometimes dying. (Catone)
This is one reason liberals love NPR, as well as many people who do not feel the need to label themselves the black and white polarized terms of culture wars (which simply distracts the public from the real wars: racism, classism, and the military industrial complex) (Aboutorabi). The Pew Research Center released a study about the nature of polarization in media, which emphasizes that conservatives love and trust Fox News. Alarming, but NPR programs, are among the most assiduously even-handed presentations anywhere in the American media, but there's a reason why they are so appealing to liberals. They may not have aggressively ideological content, but they do reflect a liberal sensibility. They're careful, reasoned, polite, cosmopolitan, serious with the occasional touch of whimsy—in short, everything liberals either are or imagine themselves to be. (Waldman)
Journalists and commentators understand that NPR is actively being mischaracterized to a good number of people to clog up their ears to the tones which are not heavily polarized (Fallows). A polarized tone sounds like a know-it-all, very confident, and inspires belief, while an even-handed and open minded tone inspires questioning, and a think-for-yourself approach (Manjoo). Republicans tend to discourage thinking independently even as they claim to represent freedom, and American values. The question of how long their transparent duplicity will continue to dupe millions of Americans is truly a question for evolution. While Fox News berates and bullies their viewers, “Perhaps the most important aspect of NPR's approach to new media, is that they have an organizational level commitment to allowing listeners and readers to access their content on their own terms” (Catone). This is the real market in action, and when consumers realize the potential they have to shape markets the Republican duplicity can become a nightmare of the past.
NPR is strongly supported by their loyal listeners, and is not likely to fade away into the cacophony of corporate double speak any time soon. Those who have the will, patience, and inquisitiveness to tune in will be greatly rewarded. NPR is truly great, representing the diversity and curiosity which is truly American, isn’t it?
Aoutorabi, Bijan. “Why Conservatives should love NPR.” Acculturated.com, 10 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from: http://acculturated.com/why-conservatives-should-love-npr/
Catone, Josh. “Why NPR is the future of Mainstream Media.” Mashable.com, 3 Jun. 2009. Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/2009/06/03/npr/#oynGJKb4Tqq7
Creamer, Robert. “Why the Republicans Hate NPR.” Huffington Post, 18 Mar. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/why-the-republicans-hate_b_837481.html
Fallows, James. “Why NPR Matters.” The Atlantic, 24 Oct. 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/10/why-npr-matters-long/65068/
Manjoo, Farhad. “We listen to NPR Precisely to avoid this sort of Stupidity.” Slate, 2 Mar. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/a_fine_whine/2011/03/we_listen_to_npr_precisely_to_avoid_this_sort_of_stupidity.html
NPR. “Programs.” Npr.org, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/programs/
Waldman, Paul. “Why Liberals Love (and Trust) NPR.” Alternet.org, 27 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.alternet.org/media/why-liberals-love-and-trust-npr